Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Facing Revisions

I know, I know.  About half of you just went weak in the knees.  It's an irrefutable fact that most writers fall into one of two distinct camps--you either love revisions and look forward to digging in, or you hate them with every strand of DNA in your being.

I belong to the former camp.  And it's also an irrefutable fact that most writers in the "I hate revisions" camp cannot fathom how anyone could love revisions.

I mean, where's the art?  Where's the naked flow of words, rushing from an unadulterated muse, breathing life into a story that is growing, raw and wild, from my fingertips?  Where's the ecstasy?

Well, it may not be a "naked flow of words", but for the revision-lover, revising a manuscript is art at its finest.  It's taking the raw material and sculpting it.  Bending and redirecting and sometimes completely overhauling the plot, to make it stronger.  All this, and not a single BLANK SCREEN to stare at.  Because there are already lots of WORDS to stare at, which is a lot less lonely.

Of course, I do a lot of staring-at-nothing while I'm reworking plot.  It's the kind of thinking that makes the inside of my brain ache.  Literally.  (I'm not the only one who experiences this, right?  Right??)  But within the framework of a story that already exists, the thinking doesn't overwhelm me.  Because I've already done the drafting, and I already know and love my characters.

I love this re-crafting process.  Even though I hate the brain-ache that sometimes accompanies it.

I've evolved as a drafter, too, as many of you already know.  Not so very long ago, I was a hardcore pantser.  I wrote myself into more corners than should be allowed to exist.  And yet I stood firm on my "genetic propensity" to pants my way through novels.

Until I read Save the Cat and learned how a simple "beat sheet" could change everything.

So now I plot.  No ridiculously detailed outlines; no scene-by-scene planning.  I don't think I could ever do that sort of thing.  Something about the innate pantser in me.  (I accidentally typed "innane pantser", and am now wondering what my subconscious was trying to tell me.)

But having experienced drafting a completely beat-sheeted novel for the first time, I can honestly say that I WILL NEVER PANTS ANOTHER NOVEL.  No, really.  I'm delighted with this process, and have never had such an easy time drafting a novel.  (Remembering, of course, that "easy" is relative.)

So.  My lovingly beat-sheeted Newest Novel has come back from the threshing floor of my first round critique partners.  I've spent some time despairing, and some time extrapolating all the notes that resonated with me and writing them into my printed-out outline (one of my favorite Scrivener features). And now I'm ready to begin.

I think.

And this is the part, I believe, that revision-haters dread.  The Facing It All and Figuring Out What the Heck To Do First.  And yeah, it's daunting at first.  But it's usually not the sort of thing where you start with Page One and just start fixing everything as you go.

Sometimes you have to scribble out extra backstory, and as you do, new ideas and direction begin to grow, and you may have one or more eureka moments.  (Which are exhilarating!)

Sometimes you have to write a scene or two that will never appear in your novel.  This is usually to help establish a more solid relationship between characters, to help you better develop that in the actual story.

Sometimes you have to ramp up or repair or completely revise a single character's arc.

Sometimes you have to spend A LOT OF TIME THINKING THROUGH A PLOT PROBLEM until the light goes on.

Those of you who know my Josh Story know that, prior to offering representation, Josh requested revisions.  There was a particular plot point that had me completely stuck, and I remember sitting on my  front staircase in a patch of sunlight one afternoon, my head against the wall, eyes closed.  (Oh, the tortured artiste!)  And out of NOWHERE came the answer I hadn't been able to come up with.  I wasn't even actively thinking of a way to solve it.  It just came to me, right there in the patch of sunlight.

I love moments like that.

So here I am, ready for more of those moments.  I already love this New Novel, despite the work it needs.  And I think I have enough of a game plan now to get the ball rolling.  What's really cool--and what has Mr. A feeling pretty darn good about himself--is that it was his critique notes that ultimately gave me the courage to move forward.  Don't get me wrong--he's hard on me!  I'm not sure what it was about his notes that produced this effect, but I'm not questioning it.

(Well, it might have a tiny something to do with all the references to inside jokes.  Or the way he wrote "DD" for "Dorky Dialogue" whenever my characters said something cliche or purple.  Or the way he made up names for things in my story as he referenced them, and gave them little trademarks.)

At any rate, this has been a difficult few weeks for me.  Discouragement set in last month, and I didn't know if I was going to recover.  (Seriously.  We all have our ups and downs in this journey, but I wasn't finding my way back up! I was starting to get worried.)

Guess what?  I'm on my way back up.  And I'm ready to shape this novel into what it's meant to be.

I really do love revising.  It's what makes stories sparkle.  And while I'm certain I'm going to be facing some I-hate-this-and-I-have-no-idea-what-to-do-next moments in the upcoming weeks, I'm also certain that I'm going to end up with a better story.

My wish for all First Draft Lovers is this:  I hope you learn to find equal joy in the revision process.  It is no less of an outpouring of your passions than the drafting process, and it is, in fact, where the real magic happens.  In my turn, I hope I can some day find joy in writing the first draft (because I hate it).  Then I will feel all sorts of balanced.  Which will be a good thing.

So happy drafting, happy revising, happy WRITING!  We'll all get where we're going if we keep on keeping on.



  1. I just got a lot of great feedback on manuscript and am starting the revision process. It's the first time I've had to do this, so....a little terrifying. But also exciting. =) Thanks for the post!

  2. This couldn't come at a better moment. Just yesterday, I was staring blankly at my manuscript, trying to solve a big problem my agent pointed out. I had no idea how to make it work, but then this morning EUREKA! I knew what I had to do. Now, I'm so excited to dig in!

    I love the revision process. You're right, it's like taking a lump of clay and shaping it into something beautiful. And for me, staring at a blank page is much more daunting.

  3. I'm the sicko who loves revisions. I mean LOVE. Definitely my favorite part. Maybe I should have been an editor?

    I recently heard Jonah Lehrer speak (he wrote 'Imagine: How Creativity Works), and he provides scientific evidence about those 'breakthrough' moments. The best way to have one is to quit focusing on the task at hand and relax by drinking a beer, taking a bath, or maybe taking a nap. That's when genius hits.

    So when you need a moment of inspiration, get to drinking, bathing, and napping!

  4. Hey, Authoress - EVERY aspect of the writing process is where the "real magic" happens, whether it's drafting, revising, polishing, etc., because it all goes into creating a completed, hopefully enjoyable story. You can't just say revising is where the real magic exists because you like that aspect the most ;) In any case, love your post and glad you're back on the way up!

  5. LOL Chris! But I wasn't speaking experientially (because we all know you draft-lovers think drafting is "magic" -- ;D). Rather, I meant that without the revision, the story would never become what it's meant to be. And that has nothing to do with whether I love the process or not; it's a hard fact. Nobody publishes an unrevised, unpolished novel. (Well, maybe SOME people do. But you know what I mean.) And that's what I meant by the "real magic." It's what brings the book to life.

  6. This. So much this. I love this post almost as much as I love revision, which I love as much as chocolate.

    I'm not a 'naked flow of words' kinda gal. Getting the words down in the first place is like pulling teeth (I mean, I enjoy some of it, but yeah, mostly pulling teeth). Then I get to revise. It's painful, but its also beautiful and exciting. It's during revisions that I feel like a real writer.

    Thanks so much for this post, Authoress. I less-than-three it with many less-than-threes.

  7. I do actually love revisions. In my first draft, sometimes after a while, the writing gets bland, like the ink of a pen starting to dry. But after those aha! moments and a lot of brainstorming, I love that rush when I'm injecting the LIFE into my novel.

    Thanks for the post! Glad there's someone out there who's currently editing too. Because sometimes injecting that life into a story sucks the life out of you.

  8. I'm only on my first MS. I loved the "flow of words" phase during my first draft. I wrote almost the entire thing in a month. Late nights when I'd have an idea that just couldn't wait - those were the best.

    But now that I'm starting to make progress on the drafting, I'm actually beginning to enjoy it more (which I haven't been). The more revising I do, the more it shines - like you said.

    I hope I can jump back into the flow on my next novel, lol. Great post!

  9. As a relatively new aspiring author, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the revision part of writing. It's all one mysterious process-I Live for it.
    Thanks for the post.
    I often sit in bright dollops of light for clarity too. Glad to hear your pendulum is swinging forward.

  10. I love and hate each part of writing, I think. Sometimes, when the words are flying from my brain to my fingers and everything works, writing is wonderful. Other times, it's like pulling my own teeth. It may be that I'm a pantser, like you used to be-- though I've never gone more than 2k in the wrong direction before realizing something's wrong, and even that's rare, so maybe I'm less of a pantser than I think. (I go in knowing point A, F, N, sometimes Q, and either Y or Z. Then I try to connect the letters.)

    Revising, though... the first edit, where I can fix all the things that bugged me as I wrote it but wasn't allowed to fix while writing, and fix the spelling errors, and add extra scenes, is awesome. The second edit, where it's printed off and I realize I was a dunderhead eight times a page, less. Then it goes to the beta-ers, and they write notes on what they like/dislike and does/doesn't work, and I make it a point to thank them every time they disagree. Because I think thought-headaches are good for me.

  11. Some days I love revisions, and some days I hate it. I'm new to the whole thing and so I've yet to figure out the right way to sculpt things, but I think you're right about that being where the magic is. Cuz my naked words would be really embarrassed to be seen w/out some grooming.

  12. I'm one of those who love to revise. I'm currently drafting, and I feel like I'm slogging through a never-ending mud flat. I long for the days of revising my last novel before I sent it out.

    As for that aha! moment in the sunshine--it was BECAUSE you weren't thinking about it that you figured out how to fix the problem. The brain needs time to rest and recuperate from constantly having to focus, and when you allow it a break, new circuits go to work, and that's when lots of problem-solving gets done. :)

  13. So happy you are on your way "back up" and I am almost always an "innane pantser". I finally got myself a copy of "Save the Cat" two weeks ago.

    Wow! I so needed this two years ago!
    Very happy for it now. It makes all the difference in the world!!!

  14. The timing of this post is perfect. I just blogged about the joy I'm having in this First Draft Honeymoon I'm experincing with one of my projects. But...I have another MS that I'll have to buckle down to and do revisions.

    I'm not a happy resident of Revision City. Yet I can see the beauty in it. It's like watching a sculptor eyeball a soomewhat finished product then take that chisel and - bit by tiny bit - rework it into an even more incredible masterpiece.

    Le sigh. I just smiled.

  15. It completely depends on which round of revision we're talking about.

    First rounds = good
    Later rounds = kill me now

    And I'm so glad you're on your way back up, Authoress! You do know that we all love you!

  16. For too many years I too was a confirmed pantser with the motto "outlines...we don't need no stinkin' outlines!!!) Still no lengthy complicated outlines for me, but I do have "guidelines" of where I'm going. Next step--Scrivener. Thanks for all the wonderful information and education.
    A former lurker

  17. Great post, Authoress! :) I, too, love the revision process, however... there are different levels of revision. There are the tweaks and refinements and enhancements that are all kinds of wonderful to play with. Then there are the plot fixes and scene additions, which are also awesome, but they do require the brain-bleed thinking process. And THEN there are the rewrites that mean overhauling enormous chunks of a book in serious need of help. Throw in a deadline of a couple weeks and you have all the makings for an ulcer.

    The latter is where I'm at with my current project, and though I (finally) feel good about how I plan to fix what's broken, it was daunting to get the long email from my agent listing everything that was wrong. Basically, I have to toss out the middle of the book and rewrite it. Normally I'd enjoy doing this, but it has to be done by the end of May to turn in to my editor on deadline. So I'm not having as much fun as I'd like. :( That being said, I'm very excited about how much stronger the story will be when I'm finished. It's a novella, so it's not like trying to fix a full length novel, just 40k words of one.

    Pray for me...

  18. I hate revising! And yet, my books are a million times better for it. It's the ultimate catch 22, in my lazy mind anyway. It takes almost as long to revise as it does to write the darn thing, by the time I'm done writing I'm sooo ready to move on and yet I know, my readers deserve no less than my very best and that's me sticking my butt on the chair and refusing to move on to book 2 before book 1 is ready to go.

    Sigh..revisions...I hates/loves them!

  19. Speaking of revisions, I recently picked up a book from the library that was first sold as a download, then because it did so well (I think it was the catchy title, which now escapes me), was published as a "real" book. It was published as-is, and you could tell it didn't go through any edit-revisions stage, which was a real eye-opener for me.

    It had possibilities, but without some necessary revisions, it wasn't worth more than the 99 cents it probably was online. This really made me think. Yes, some people make money going that route, but I would rather my work takes longer to come to fruition and be the best it can be, a work I can be proud of. Even if no one buys it but my mom (thank goodness for moms!)

    So keep sculpting, as Angela aptly put it, and chisel that MS into a masterpiece!

  20. Yikes!!!AC Crispin is Miss Snark! What a scam artist, nothing is sacred nowadays. I hear she admitted to some postings which were supposed to be from a real NYC literary agent. What a sham. And that suspended attorney Charles Petit was in on the lying scam, claiming to have represented her, aka ANN C CRISPIN Oh Drat, even this blog is tainted.

  21. Regarding Save the Cat - I'm just finishing reading this now. Can anyone point me to a resource that translates the Beat Sheet into a novel (since the screenplay format is 100 pages and the book is specific on which page each beat should hit). I did a google search and found a few things but not quite what I had in mind. So maybe the beats are more of general outline suggestions for novel writers?

    I agree with Miss Snark: I will never pants a novel again. My head is spinning from all the backtrackign and patching up I'm doing. I get too excited to write in the planning stages and just go for it, but inevitably come against walls and dead ends. I suppose it can happen with a plotted novel too, but I personally need a more structured process next time around. Third time's a charm!

  22. It truly is about knowing where to start! I glory in the process once it gets started.

  23. I'm torn. I enjoy revising and improving... but at the same time, I find some of my older writing physically painful to read xD (Which is why I am MAJORLY procrastinating right now... sigh.)


  24. " scene-by-scene planning..."

    Heh, is this what pantsers think we do? I'm the most obsessive planner I know, and even I don't do this :-)

    Love this post. I'm totally at the "stare at the wall until the revised plot point arrives" stage, and I hate it, but it's a lot better than staring at blank words.

  25. I am new to this whole crazy magic show, too. I have found that sometimes pantsing does work, sometimes plotting works. The idea is different things work at different times. One the wildest ways is just sitting down and telling my wife the story, plotpoints and all. It is actually more free flowing than even using any note cards or other tricks because there's not even the linear visual or mental clues, so I am able to jump around at random to refine points. It struck me as similar to the storytellers of old: all verbal. Then I just sat down and use the tricks of the trade to piece it all together. The godd thing about this process with her is that I can tell immediately if something is good or not just by the look on her face. I don't have to wait for her to read it, I just read her expressions.

    I really enjoy your blog, by the way. Very insipring stuff. I have not entered any of your promotions, though--not sure if I'm "there" yet.

  26. I love revising! (Says the girl in the first draft stage). I like having the words on paper and knowing I have something to work with, as opposed to staring at the page count and realizing I still have to write 350 pages until I can write "THE END."

    Yep, that's why I'm blogging right now instead of writing. Must open Word and get going.


  27. I love a good pep talk. We all need it from time to time. I love it when I'm the one writing it, but also important to remember that we all have our ups and downs.

    I like revising too. It's the real crafting of the story and what makes it art and not a hack job. (Is hack job hyphenated? Hack-job? Not sure.)

  28. I'm not saying they're easy, but I love revisions. I see writing as both art and craft and we need the spontaneous as well as the crafted.

    I have two notes on my wall to myself if I agonize over a revision: You know how to do this and It gets better with every draft.

    It does, too! It's magic watching the messy form something wonderful.

    @Stephsco ~ I don't know of any resource for "translating" Snyder's beat sheet into novel form. I'd say don't worry about the page numbers, just that you're hitting all the beats.

    I've created my own kind of outline called a "sequence and beat sheet" using some things I learned in Paul Gulino's Screenwriting: The Sequence Approach. I think working in sequences (and beats within the each sequence) works really well for novel writing.

    I used to be a pantser back in the day. I will never go back there again. Love, love, love my sequence and beat sheet.

  29. I'm a reviser. My blog is called Forever Rewrighting so ...yeah. Love it. For all the reasons you stated. I just finished another first draft and can't wait for it to sit awhile before I can go back over it w/ fresh eyes.
    In the meantime, I twiddle my thumbs and wish for a New Idea.